Making Science Education meaningful through Technology Enhanced Learning. Part 2.

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Science, especially school science, should be a very practical subject. It involves doing things, observing, measuring, communicating, discussing, investigating and trying things out (Wellington and Ireson, 2012). Then again, these things cannot be done in vacuum; there is also the theoretical part and the Scientific method that embodies the two faces of learning Science. So while the practical side may be attractive and alluring to many, in order to ask a question, do the research, build and test the hypothesis, analyse data and reach conclusions  (Cohen and Manion 2011) the theoretical part cannot be neglected.  Unfortunately, for many this is where the relation with science ends. Science is also a theoretical subject that provokes elements of thinking, hypothesizing, theorizing and applying theories in context of things. While many are attracted to the practical approach of science, the more academic part tends to become pedantic, loses the link with reality and becoming abstract losing meaning.

Taking it from Johansen et al. (2008) “In order for students to learn meaningfully, they must be willfully engaged in a meaningful task”. Furthermore, Johanssen et al., (ibid.) suggest five important interlinked dimensions or activities that include active, constructive, intentional authentic and cooperative activities.

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All five dimensions are integral for the conceptualization of science especially when considering that a true approach to understanding science involves deep learning processes. In this case technology in educational contexts can help if interpreted in such a way that includes these dimensions.

If we as teachers intend to foster meaningful learning then we must look beyond the hardware and refrain from exclusively referring to technologies as tools. Rather, when observing how our younger counterparts are mediating their lives and continuously expressing themselves through these digital technologies I believe that we should focus more on how these can compliment such lifestyles and culture. Consequently, as we expose these qualities and attitudes we can elucidate and therefore design environments, situations and cognitive learning strategies that engage learners in such a way where we not only decide that they should be at the center of the learning activity but actually stimulate them to be so.

In educational contexts science is all about teaching and learning. There is the content; based on facts laws, theories and their understanding; and the process that involves the methodology to make the content understandable.  The content is always there and has remained relatively unchanged. On the other hand the process; based on methods to enhance learning and consequently measured by successful learning outcomes; is continuously changing in the face of new pedagogies. Therefore when it comes to ICT (that accompany the delivery of the content) the focus should be on the process that is fundamental for the fostering of learning with technologies. Along these lines technologies can be viewed in what I define as ‘vehicles of intellectual openings’ that engage students and facilitate thinking through user initiated and learner controlled activities. In this case I envisage digital technologies as a means that nurture learning through user generated content with the teachers, who equipped with the maturity that enhance experience, can steer the students through the learning process.

As I have expressed myself in previous contributions, I believe that the road to awareness that compliments technology enhance learning to science education is still young and therefore long and tortuous. McFarlane and Sakellariou (2002), Barab and Dede (2007), Wellington and Ireson (2012) consider that using ICT with a focus of “[….] doing and not receiving science […]“ (Barab and Dede, 2007) can add value to science and taking it from Wellington (1994), doing science the way scientists do can make the discipline not only more interesting but also intriguing. Then again if we intend to pursue a new pedagogy that caters for deep and higher order thinking, we must become aware that like science, art, music and literature, digital literacy and therefore technology enhanced learning is a discipline in its own right. Like driving a car does not promote one to being a mechanic or engineer, then knowing how to switch on and off a PC or elaborately using an office application does not imply that one is digitally literate enough to facilitate meaningful learning through the use of technology in class. We must always keep in mind that the model of the passive student sitting mindlessly pressing buttons and being mildly entertained by fancy graphics on a screen is completely out of tune. The reality at least away from formal educational contexts is of one immersed and empowered to be creative and active in the learning process. Now it is up to us educators to formalize this reality and meaningfully apply it in a way where the disciplines of content and technology are merged together in a successful and therefore meaningful learning experience.

Article written by: Patrick Camilleri, Scientix Ambassador

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